Australian shares down after mixed messages from Asia

THE Australian sharemarket closed lower amid profit-taking on Friday and mixed messages about economic data out of Asia.

THE Australian sharemarket closed lower amid profit-taking on Friday and mixed messages about economic data out of Asia.

At the close on Friday, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index was 13.5 points, or 0.28 per cent lower at 4709.5, while the broader All Ordinaries Index was down 11.4 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 4733.8.

On the ASX 24, the March share price index futures contract was 11 points lower at 4681, with 25,099 contracts traded.

IG Markets strategist Evan Lucas said sentiment had turned negative after Chinese data showed inflation was at a relatively low 2.6 per cent last year, but had increased in December, indicating no stimulation was likely soon.

However it was offset by Japan's premier Shinzo Abe announcing a $US100 billion-plus ($A95 billion-plus) stimulus package.

"That helped our market move off its lows, and it ramped up," Mr Lucas said.

"But we had some profits locked in, weighing on the mining sector, despite the iron ore price still sitting at $US158 a tonne."

"It was a bit of a mixed market despite strong leads from the US . . . a lot of people are watching what will happen with corporate earnings week there."

The mining giants' share prices continued to fall.

BHP Billiton led the falls, losing 73¢, or 1.95 per cent, to $36.68, Fortescue fell 12¢, or 2.47 per cent, to $4.73 and Rio Tinto tumbled $1.30, or 1.9 per cent, to $65.80.

The four big banks varied. ANZ gained 10¢ to $25.25, National Australia Bank jumped 14¢ to $25.57, Westpac lost 2¢ to $26.58 and Commonwealth Bank dived 23¢ to $61.38.

The spot price of gold in Sydney closed at $US1672.72 per fine ounce, up $US14.34. National turnover was 1.44 billion shares worth $3.14 billion.

Meanwhile, bonds futures prices were lower after positive comments from the European Central Bank boosted market sentiment and reduced demand for fixed income assets.

JPMorgan interest rate strategist Sally Auld said bond futures were sold off around the globe following the ECB's meeting overnight on Thursday.

The ECB board voted to keep its key interest rate at its historic low of 0.75 per cent and its president Mario Draghi said, after the meeting, that there had been signs the situation in Europe had broadly stabilised and market confidence had improved significantly.

"The ECB went from the majority voting for a rate cut in December and downgrading growth and inflation forecasts, but not actually cutting rates, to no one voting for a rate cut and Draghi seemingly talking more hawkishly," Ms Auld said.

"I don't think the market was really positioned for that, though I think we under-performed [in the sell-off] compared to the US."

Ms Auld said bond futures prices had traded in a narrow range following the sell-off, but could move a little lower during the US and European sessions tonight.

She said the release of unemployment figures for December next week and inflation figures for the December quarter the following week would be the key drivers for the local market before next month's Reserve Bank of Australia board meeting.

The March 10-year bond futures contract was trading at 96.545 (implying a yield of 3.455 per cent), down from Thursday's local close of 96.570 (3.430 per cent). The March three-year contract was at 97.140 (2.860 per cent), down from 97.160 (2.840 per cent) previously.

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